Ahead of and during our Annual General Meeting we gave members the opportunity to ask a question directly to our Board of Directors and receive a response. Please see this year’s questions and responses below.
Q Diversity on the Board – it is 100% white. What steps are being taken to increase diversity and therefore attract far richer experience and input?
A Diversity and Inclusion is taken very seriously by the Board, who have recent signed off the Society’s new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. It is recognised that, although there is good diversity of age, gender and background, there is always more that can be done to ensure a sufficiently diverse Board to effectively represent the Members. Over the next few years, the current members of the Board will be reaching retirement after serving their maximum terms, creating an opportunity for diversity and inclusion to play a significant role when recruitment takes place to replace them.
The Society has set an initial target to achieve double figures for non-white employees, a target to become a Level 2 Status disability confident employer and maintain our commitment to Women in Finance Charter, with 53% of the Board and Executive staff being female.
Q Costs are spiralling – whilst I do understand cost increases around security etc, the website is still very poor. You state that the costs are in-line with your competitors, can you expand on this?
A The Board recognises that every penny spent on running the Society is a penny that can’t be spent on improving rates for savers or borrowers. The burden of regulation poses increasing costs throughout the sector and remains a constant challenge with which the Board are engaged. All cost increases are given very careful consideration by the Board. The Society will continue to invest in good costs and endeavour not to avoid ineffective and inefficient costs.
The Society’s cost income ratio reduced during 2021 from 93% to 88%. The actual cost increased in the year by £1.2m; £600,000 in staff costs to considerably strengthen the staff base, the remaining £600,000 for investments within the organisation including an improved telephone system, initial costs for the website and over £100,000 increase in external assurance.
A new Society website will be delivered over the Summer of 2022 to provide a much improved offering for both staff and customers.
Q How do Directors engage with members?
A Members are encouraged to engage with the Board at every opportunity, with the Annual General Meeting being a good example of this. The programme of Member engagement activities include Member Forums at which Members are invited to discuss topic of interest and scheduled Branch visits by Executive Directors and Non-executive Directors to engage directly with the Members. Contact from Members is welcomed at any time to share thoughts, ideas and questions.
Q Is there any evidence that footfall to the branches is returning to pre-pandemic levels?
A The Society is absolutely committed to its branches which are the cornerstones of the organisation. Footfall has begun to increase but is still between 30% and 40% down on pre-pandemic levels.
Q Will the uncertainty of the economic outlook make it difficult to grow the Society and what are the Board’s plans for dealing with this?
A The Society’s mortgage book is currently in an excellent position. Affordability is a key measure when we lend money and our calculations include a buffer in net free pay and a mortgage rate stress test. We do not enter into a mortgage relationship with anyone with a risk that they will not be able to afford to repay their mortgage.